CAIRO — Libya's prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was briefly kidnapped from a heavily guarded Tripoli hotel Thursday in an apparent act of retaliation for his supposed consent to the capture of a suspected al-Qaida leader by U.S. Special Forces.
He was seized before dawn and freed by early afternoon, according to Amal al Jarrari, a spokeswoman for the prime minister's office.
The kidnapping was an ominous sign for the stability of Libya's transitional government and its cooperation with U.S. counterterrorist efforts. Zeidan's abductors appeared to be among the semiautonomous militias who serve as his government's primary police and security force, according to statements from the prime minister's office and a coalition of militia leaders.
A spokesman for the coalition, which calls it the Operations Room of Libya's Revolutionaries, said the prime minister's "arrest" followed a statement by Secretary of State John Kerry that "the Libyan government was aware of the operation" that captured the al-Qaida leader, Reuters reported.
The prime minister's kidnapping was the most serious blow yet to the credibility of Libya's fragile transitional government. It also could be a grave setback for U.S. efforts to hunt down other terrorist suspects thought to be at large on Libyan soil, including those suspected of a role in the attack last year on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Zeidan's government had said it had no warning of the U.S. commando raid last Saturday in which Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, the suspected al-Qaida leader, was captured. In a statement, the government demanded an explanation for what it called "the kidnapping of a Libyan citizen" on the streets of the capital.
But U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Zeidan's government had authorized the arrest and possibly others. Members of the Libyan Parliament had vowed to remove him from office if evidence emerged that he knew in advance.
The kidnapping Thursday was the most ominous sign yet that Libya is sliding toward anarchy two years after the revolution that ended Moammar Gadhafi's four decades of dictatorship. And it may also serve as a warning to other Libyan officials who contemplate collaborating with the United States in its pursuit of alleged terrorists.